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Ecotherapy saved my life

Friday, 19 April 2013 Debbie

Debbie experienced depression and panic attacks as a result of workplace bullying and redundancy. It wasn’t until she came across an enlightened GP and the PoLLeN project, both at the Bromley By Bow Centre in east London, that she found the right treatment for her. Here she describes how ecotherapy “saved and changed her life”.

Four and half years ago I was working for a London accountancy firm and I was being bullied. The bully couldn’t cope and blamed other people – like me – for it. I’d often get called at ridiculous hours after work or over the weekend and told off for not answering on a Sunday. It just became ridiculous. I started taking sick leave because I just didn’t want to be there. 

When I found out that over 3,000 people were going to be made redundant, half of me felt pleased because I’d be escaping the colleague who was making my life really difficult, and the other half was really upset about losing my job and a regular income.

I was feeling depressed before all this happened and when it hit me that I definitely was going to lose my job – at a time when the economy was just starting to crash – my feelings of worthlessness spiralled from there. 

I went to the Jobcentre and I spent eight months applying for work. I wanted something similar but the banks had just gone bust so there was nothing for me. I went for interviews for administration or assistant jobs but was told that I was overqualified. It was so frustrating and made me feel completely worthless.

It exacerbated my depression and I also started having panic attacks. I became so low and my confidence hit rock bottom, to the point that I couldn’t stand social situations and I found it hard to get on public transport. 

I told my GP that I was very depressed and had breathing problems connected to my panic attacks and feelings of low self-worth. The GP prescribed me with Gaviscon and Omeprazole! They thought it was acid reflux; they even did x-rays of my stomach to find the problem. This to-ing and fro-ing and not knowing what was going on went on for eight months.

Eventually I visited a new GP and talked through my feelings and was diagnosed with depression. The GP suggested CBT, but that didn’t work. I needed something to give me structure and purpose. My new GP, based in Bromley by Bow Health Centre, suggested that I try ecotherapy. It’s run by an organisation called PoLLeN and based at the health centre, so perfect for me.

I started attending in January 2011. I hadn’t heard of ecotherapy before so I guess I’m a convert! I grew up in the country and I hate the fact that when you’re living in London, where you are more likely to get work, there’s not much open space. I thought that ecotherapy sounded great as I also have a soft spot for gardening.

I met Lisa who runs the sessions and she talked me through what we would do. I started dropping in every Wednesday evening and was introduced to ecotherapy by planting and digging. I met other people with similar problems and it soon became a very supportive environment. 

It felt like people were listening to me and they really understood what I had gone through. I didn’t get the same feeling anywhere else. I could leave my worries behind when I walked in: and leave feeling supported and encouraged.

I still continue to visit PoLLeN. I have achieved a Level 1 diploma in practical horticulture, so I’ve developed a new skill and I’m certified. I volunteered last year at the Green Way on the Olympic Park site doing planting before the Olympics. I also worked on the BBC programme The Flower Pot Gang, which gave me a great insight into garden planning.

I’ll soon be getting my Level 2 diploma in horticulture and garden design, and I’ve decided that I’d like to work in an established garden, such as a project run by the National Trust or another organisation like that. 

I’m a complete convert to the benefits of ecotherapy. Not only has it improved my mental health and boosted my confidence, but I’ve also learnt new skills to enter into a new career, and I’ve also met so many new friends. 

It’s changed my life and I can’t believe how much my mental health has improved. 

Ecotherapy at PoLLeN saved my life and changed my life.

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